Bruce Baird, Hijikata Tatsumi and Butoh: Dancing in a Pool of Grey Grits (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Peter Eckersall


Japan’s postwar art and performance scene is widely known for its innovations and avant-garde tendencies. Hijikata Tatsumi (1928–1986) who founded the dance-performance form butoh is among its most influential and inventive adherents. Hijikata was an enigmatic figure, a person who defied aesthetic and political conventions and created a movement style so radical that it too
remains in some ways unknowable and butoh is often understood to be uncanny and disturbing. It is viscerally expressive and also challenging of conventions in the performing arts as a statement against modern dance. It is a physicalised protest to the capitalist ordering of bodies in early postwar Japan and a mode of corporeal thinking about existence and the human spirit. It draws on memories of place and culture while also prefiguring ideas of intersubjectivity and ecological systems linking artistic expression to environmental awareness. It is both a comment on and an extension of reality. As Miryam Sas so elegantly writes: ‘Butô appeals to a transcendent return and also, at other moments, acknowledges the impossibility of such a return. In this sense, the performance of butô has the structure of a text, with its impossible invocation of and refusal of the real’ (2011: 202). Interestingly, Butoh (or butô) has been widely disseminated around the world with companies and classes now seen on all continents. It is also popular among many younger artists who are perhaps drawn to its image-based corporeality and transgressive expressions of resistance.

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Sas, Miryam. Experimental Arts in Postwar Japan: Moments of Encounter, Engagement, and Imagined Return (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2011).

Marshall, Jonathan. ‘The World of the Neurology Ward: Hauntology and European Modernism mal tourné in Butoh’, TDR: The Drama Review, 57.4 (2013): 60–85.


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